By Joe Trinacria
To say that the road Luke Boyd took to playing big-time college football at LSU was the road less traveled would be an understatement.
Most student-athletes start their playing careers at 18 years old, not 27. Most do not have to worry about juggling the responsibilities of class in addition to that of a husband and father. Most are not staff sergeants in the United States Marine Corps and Afghanistan War veterans.
Boyd, however, is all of those things. He may be the “old man” and resident badass on the Tigers, but in the locker room Boyd is just one of the guys.
“Some of the guys I’m close to on the team will tease me and say I look old when I have a little stubble on my face,” Boyd said with a laugh. “But they’re not so bad usually.”
Unlike the stars roaming the field for the Tigers every Saturday, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound wide receiver was not a heavily sought after prospect coming out of high school.
There was no pile of recruitment letters filling up his family’s mailbox, and no Division I coaching legends were wandering the halls of Stafford, Virginia’s Colonial Forge High School with hopes of coaxing Boyd towards their program.
“I always knew that I was destined to play college football,” Boyd said. “Even though I had great numbers coming out of high school, there was no Wes Welker or other little guys making plays in the NFL at the time. No matter how big your heart was, big schools just weren’t going to take a chance on a guy my size back then.”
After receiving offers from mostly smaller local programs, the LSU walk-on began his collegiate football journey by playing Division III ball at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey.
Boyd was unhappy with the level of competition at Fairleigh Dickinson, and in 2006 he decided to follow his high school girlfriend (and now wife) Tina to Baton Rouge. Tina was a track and cross-country runner at Savannah State University in Georgia, who at the time had recently transferred to LSU to run for the Tigers.
Unable to afford the cost of tuition for himself to attend LSU, Boyd worked a series of odd jobs when he first started living in Baton Rouge. Whether it was working for a moving company or laying floors or landscaping, nothing seemed to fit him quite right.
Boyd eventually obtained his real estate license, but once he discovered that he lacked the passion for selling houses, his next career move would put him on a course of action that would drastically alter his life. In May 2008, Boyd shipped out for boot camp after enlisting in the Marine Corps.
“It certainly was a culture shock,” Boyd said of his first arrival on the base. “The Marines break you down completely and build you back up as a new man with discipline and goals. It’s not just lessons that you bring with you to the football team; it’s something that gives you perspective every single day. Joining the Marine Corps was the best decision of my life.”
Boyd achieved the rank of sergeant after less than two years of service and was deployed to Afghanistan for active-duty in 2010. While overseas, he worked as a tactical service data technician, setting up air traffic control towers over the countryside to produce ground and air pictures of the terrain.
Understandably, Boyd prefers not to speak in-depth about his time in Afghanistan, but offered, “We took care of business over there and we were fortunate enough to not have any casualties in our unit.”
After his tour of duty had concluded, Boyd returned home and was stationed at Camp Pendleton in California. The base had a Marine football team that played against other military and law enforcement teams in the area, which he joined. In his first year, Boyd starred as a speedy wide receiver, winning league MVP honors in 2011.
As a reward for this achievement, Boyd was given the chance to attend the 2012 NFL Draft in New York City, where he announced the Seattle Seahawks’ third-round selection of quarterback Russell Wilson.
Not one to let opportunity pass him by, Boyd met LSU head coach Les Miles in Radio City Music Hall’s green room. Miles was in attendance to support former Tigers receiver Reuben Randle, who had just been drafted by the New York Giants in the second round.
Before the draft, Boyd had recently been accepted into the Marine Enlisting Commissioning Education Program (MECEP), which allows veterans to attend the college of their choice free of charge in exchange for remaining on active-duty as an instructor for an on-campus ROTC program.
“I was thinking to myself, man if I could go to school anywhere I would go to LSU and try to walk on,” Boyd said. “And this was my chance!”
Boyd chatted with Miles about football, and was encouraged to get in touch with Sam Nader, the coordinator of LSU’s walk-on program. After Nader and other members of the coaching staff reviewed his Marine football highlight film, Boyd was officially invited to walk on to LSU’s football team.
Now while this part of the story may call to mind Rudy, arguably college football’s most famous walk-on player and inspiration behind the 1993 film, Boyd puts any similarities to rest quickly.
“I’m fully capable of playing at this level,” Boyd said in response to the comparisons. “Don’t get me wrong, I’ve taken my fair share of licks too. I can remember the first hit I took at practice was from Lamin Barrow on a crossing route. I may not have the same speed as I did when I was a young man, but I certainly can hold my own out there.”
It is a walk-on’s often thankless job to help the starting players grow by giving it everything they’ve got, all the time. Boyd credits his time in the Marines as helping him to persevere.
“On the field, discipline-wise, I’m able to get through anything football can throw at me,” Boyd said. “All the times you are pushing, fighting, thinking that you can’t go further, the Marine Corps gave me the knowledge that I have more to push.”
Being a student-athlete at a Division I school is a full-time job.
Most fans don’t understand the true commitment it takes day in and day out to be a part of team at that level, with workouts and practices and film study.
“Me and my wife joke that football at LSU is a 40-hour work week,” Boyd said. “All of the football I had been a part of before was just practicing and some film study. Playing at this level is definitely a full load, but it’s an experience I would ever trade in.”
A typical day for Boyd begins at 5:30 a.m., where he supervises the Southern University ROTC program until around 7 a.m.Then it’s off to campus for scheduled workouts before class.
Football practice begins at 2 p.m., and Boyd usually doesn’t get home until around 6:30 for dinner. He spends most of his time at home playing with his 2-year-old daughter, Natalie, before she heads to bed. After that, Boyd shares some downtime with his wife before he has to hit the books and do it all again the following day.
“I can micromanage a 24-hour time frame to get so much done,” Boyd said. “When you’re going through basic training there isn’t a moment you aren’t doing something. You learn to use every minute to do something productive.”
The payoff for Boyd is simple – it’s you, the fans, rocking Tiger Stadium on Saturday nights in Death Valley.
“The first time running out onto that field was an out of body surreal experience,” Boyd said. “I remember having one of those ‘Am I really here?’ moments, running out and trying to take it in at the same time.
“After you’ve done it a few times it turns into this really amazing feeling. You just want to get out there and get the crowd pumped up and have them pump you up. It’s nothing like I’ve ever experienced before.”
Even if he never gets the chance to check into a game for the Tigers, Boyd has cherished his experience with the team.
“I always believed I was good enough to play, but I never thought it could work out as great as this,” Boyd said. “Sometimes I wish I could’ve played back in my prime. Things hurt a little longer now and I’m not as quick as I once was, but everyone’s got a different path. Even with the way it worked out, I’ll always have this great story to tell my children and grandchildren some day.”